‘A Spring of Knowledge and a Family’: Wagner Hosts White House Program Fostering Young African Leaders

‘A Spring of Knowledge and a Family’: Wagner Hosts White House Program Fostering Young African Leaders


Mandela Washington Fellow Mireille Muhigwa with President Guarasci

In the summer of 2014, 25 nonprofit leaders and community advocates from 19 African countries studied community and nonprofit organizations at Wagner College. The six-week program was part of President Obama’s Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, which placed 500 men and women in programs at 20 colleges and universities across America last summer.

Each Washington Fellowship institution focuses on one of three areas: public management, business and entrepreneurship, or civic leadership. Wagner College, the only small college selected for the Washington Fellowship, was chosen by the U.S. State Department for the civic leadership curriculum because of Wagner’s groundbreaking Port Richmond Partnership.

“I have had a great experience at Wagner,” said Mireille Muhigwa, who advocates for the rights of women and children in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “For me, Wagner is both a spring of knowledge about civic leadership and a family for me. I am surrounded by amazing people, happy and kind, who fully appreciate the beauty of the diversity of people.”

Wagner’s Mandela Washington Fellows spent equal parts of their day engaging in classroom lectures and discussions, and visiting many different kinds of community organizations in the field to see first-hand how they operate.

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“The site visits and classroom discussions have been well planned and well thought out, and I feel that I have had great exposure to the way that systems work in the United States,” said Araba Hammond, chief operations officer for Village of Hope, a major Ghanaian NGO. “And the opportunity to fraternize with other young Africans and discuss the similarities and differences in our countries’ problems has been priceless. I look forward to using the experiences gathered so far to improve my work and become a resource and a mentor to other young Africans.”

Wagner College will continue to be a part of this prestigious program for a second year. Wagner’s fellowship program is coordinated by Ruta Shah-Gordon, assistant vice president of campus life and internationalization; Jason Fitzgerald, assistant professor of education, serves as the academic coordinator. Many Wagner faculty members gave instruction on civic leadership in their fields, including David Gordon (education), Richard LaRocca (business administration), Don Stearns (biology), and Aleksandra Zagorin (nursing).